It's the start of Memorial Day weekend, and with the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaching on June 6th, I decided to watch THE LONGEST DAY (1962).
It was my very first time to watch this D-Day epic, which does an admirable job pulling together the events and major personalities involved in that momentous campaign. As I watched the fictional version of one of the most significant days in world history, I could only marvel at the amazing bravery of the real men who selflessly gave everything so that we could live free.
This 178-minute film, which shows D-Day from the perspective of both the Allied forces and the Nazis, had three main directors: Andrew Marton for the American sequences, Ken Annakin directing the British, and Bernhard Wicki filmed the German scenes. The principal cinematographers were Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz. The screenplay by Cornelius Ryan was based on his book.
died of a heart attack just a month later.) That the film achieves some real depth in terms of its portrayals of events and people is quite an achievement given how much ground it covers.
Four actors made particular impressions on me. The first was Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota, one of the highest-ranking officers at Omaha Beach. Mitchum is simply wonderful as the cigar-chewing Cota, whether encouraging a young soldier to retrieve his rifle -- later that morning he sees the soldier with his rifle and says "Good for you, son!" -- or rallying his troops to find a way off the beach. With every action Mitchum showed why Cota was a general. It's a wonderful performance and a great tribute to a heroic man.
John Wayne plays Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, who continues to lead his men despite a broken leg. His expression when he sees the dead paratroopers hanging from trees at Sainte-Mere-Eglise is simply unforgettable, and one more reminder of Wayne's superb acting talent.
This is a good point to mention that while THE LONGEST DAY makes the massive casualties of D-Day quite clear, it does so without gore. My imagination was more than enough to fill in the blanks, and I would venture to say that John Wayne's expression when he arrives at Sainte-Mere-Eglise had a more profound impact on me than all the bloody bodies filmmakers like Steven Spielberg would choose to show in later films.
British actor Richard Todd could actually have played himself, as he was one of the real heroes of D-Day. Todd was one of the very first men to parachute into occupied France that day, where he was one of the first paratroopers to meet Major John Howard's glider force at Pegasus Bridge. Todd portrays Major Howard in the film. The two men are seen together in this photograph.
The vast cast also includes Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Eddie Albert, Robert Wagner, Richard Beymer, Peter Lawford, Richard Burton, Curt Jergens, Mel Ferrer, Leo Genn, and Alexander Knox.
THE LONGEST DAY is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. It was also released on VHS, and most recently it's just been released on Blu-ray. It can be rented for streaming via Amazon Instant Video.